• Print this Page

Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a state of well-being that a person can reach or can set as a goal in order to allow them to manage effectively multiple responsibilities at work, at home and in their community. Work-life balance is different for everyone and it supports physical, emotional, family and community health and does so without grief, stress or negative impact.[1]

Work-life conflict occurs when individuals, at any level within an organization, find their roles within the workplace and outside it are overwhelming to them or interfering with one another.[2]

Poor work-life balance can directly negatively impact an individual’s mental health and it can also hinder the prevention and management of mental illness.

Work-life balance falls directly into PSR 11, Balance, from the Guarding Minds @ Work list. It is defined as “a work environment where there is recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life.” Poor work-life balance can directly impact an individual’s mental health and mental illness prevention and management. A recent study found a significantly higher prevalence of anxiety and depression in employees who work more than 49 hours per week.[3] There may be periods when employees may have to work more than their normal hours however, this should not become a constant expectation.

Not all employees will have the same work-life balance issues. Baby Boomers will most likely have different issues than Generation Y employees. Age, cultural, gender, family and marital status, care-giver demands, socioeconomic status and many other factors affect an employee’s work-life balance. Those same factors can also influence how individuals are affected by demands. Everyone responds differently to stress. What creates a serious problem for one employee may not be felt in the same way by colleagues.

To help employees achieve/maintain a sense of work/life balance, Health Canada suggests that employers:

  • Identify ways of reducing employee workloads. Special attention needs to be given to reducing the workloads of managers and professionals in all sectors. Employees should be asked for suggestions – they often are in the best position to identify ways of streamlining work.
  • Reduce reliance on both paid and unpaid overtime by employees.
  • Recognize and reward overtime work.
  • Reduce job-related travel time for employees.
  • Make alternative work arrangements more widely available within the organization. These might include flex-time or the opportunity to work at home for part of the work week.
  • Give employees the opportunity to say “no” when asked to work overtime. Saying “no” should not be a career-limiting move. Employees should not have to choose between having a family and career advancement.
  • Examine work expectations, rewards and benefits through a “life-cycle” lens (i.e. what employees are able to do and motivated to do and what rewards and benefits they desire will change with each life-cycle stage).

More examples of strategies, programs and activities to improve work-life balance are available in the Examples of workplace mental health strategies, programs and activities section.

Case Study: work-life balance at Northwood Technologies[4]

Situation: Northwood Technologies software company is trying to create a culture where quality work can be accomplished in the context of a quality life.

Action: The company introduced flexible workplace schedules, telecommuting opportunities and the chance to volunteer in the community during the work day. It organized a variety of healthy groups, including a walking club, running club and a badminton club. This was all done in an office of 85 people.

Result: Employees are less stressed and more content with their workplace because of reduced work-life conflict.

To read the whole case study visit http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/11northwood_technologies.shtml.


[1] Chris Higgins and Linda Duxbury. “The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict Study: Report One,” Health Canada, (2002) http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/work-travail/report1/index-eng.php (accessed December 1, 2009).

[2] Chris Higgins and Linda Duxbury. “Key Findings and Recommendations from The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict Study,” Health Canada, (2009) http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/occup-travail/balancing_six-equilibre_six/index-eng.php (accessed December 1, 2009).

[3] E. Kleppa, B. Sanne, & G. Tell, “Working Overtime is Associated with Anxiety and Depression: The Hordaland Health Study.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 50 (2008): 658.

[4] Government of Canada. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. 2001. Corporate profiles: Northwood Technologies.” http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/11northwood_technologies.shtml.